R.I.P. Clarence Williams III from The Mod Squad and Purple Rain

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Michael Cole, Clarence Williams III, and Peggy Lipton
Michael Cole, Clarence Williams III, and Peggy Lipton

As reported by Variety, actor Clarence Williams III—best known for his role as Linc Hayes in ‘60s cop show The Mod Squad and for his appearance in Purple Rain—died earlier this month from colon cancer. He was 81.

Williams was born in New York in 1939 and was interested in acting from a young age, but he didn’t start doing it professionally until he got out of the military in the ‘50s. He started as a stage actor, appearing in a Vinette Caroll production of Dark Of The Moon in 1957 and eventually a Tony nomination for his role in Slow Dance On The Killing Ground in 1965. He had a few minor TV roles in the ‘60s, but his big break arrived in 1968 when he was cast as Lincoln “Linc” Hayes in groundbreaking counterculture crime drama The Mod Squad. The show was a big hit and tackled a lot of hot-button issues of the day, including abortion, domestic violence, the Vietnam War and PTSD, police brutality, and problems with illegal drugs. With Williams’ co-lead role, it also prominently featured a Black man who had equal status to his white colleagues (played by Peggy Lipton and Michael Cole). Lipton, who also went on to be known as Norma Jennings on Twin Peaks, died in 2019.

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After The Mod Squad, Williams went on to appear in The Generals Daughter, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Half Baked, Reindeer Games, 52 Pick-Up, and Purple Rain, where he played Prince’s father. He also had a recurring role in Hallmark’s Mystery Woman movie series and popped up a couple of times on Twin Peaks as FBI Agent Roger Hardy. In more recent years, he appeared in Justified, American Nightmares, Empire, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler. He is survived by his daughter and his sister.